November 02, 2021
Dear Members of the University Community,
On September 9 of this year President Biden issued Executive Order 14042; it requires all employees of federal contractors to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by December 8, 2021. Guidelines implementing the Order make clear that this applies to all employees of Catholic University, with some exceptions for religious or health-related reasons. Though we are not happy with this new direction, we are bound by it. I want to explain what our policy has been, and how this will change it.
We began to formulate our policy about vaccines almost as soon as they became available. Over the course of the past year we have revisited the issue several times, from various angles and perspectives.
Last January I addressed some moral concerns about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines which arise from the use of human embryonic kidney cell lines (HEK 293) in testing and production. The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has clarified that vaccination is morally permissible in the absence of other options.
We have also considered whether vaccination was advisable as well as permissible. We continue to see it as the fastest route to getting back to normal. So far it has worked. A number of our employees have urged us to require, and not just recommend, that all members of the community be vaccinated.
I have found the guidance of Pope Francis helpful in dealing with this last issue. The Holy Father has encouraged people to get vaccinated as an act of love for their neighbors. So have we.
The guidance issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has, however, left room for people who, “for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses.” It states that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation[;] therefore, it must be voluntary.” And in guidance to those tasked with keeping Vatican City State safe from Covid, the Pope has encouraged rules that protect the community, but also respect “the dignity, rights and fundamental freedoms of every one of the members of the Vatican community.”
To date we have sought to follow the Pope’s lead in this regard as well. We have done all we can to keep the campus safe by promoting vaccination, while respecting those who are fearful of the vaccine for reasons of health, or who have conscientious concerns about receiving it. We launched the Keep Catholic Safe campaign to encourage vaccination, and to promote our shared responsibility to prevent the spread of the virus. In this effort we have been successful. By the beginning of this school year 86% of our community had been fully vaccinated. We have done about 7,500 tests since August, and our positivity rate is currently 0.42%.
We have also followed U.S. government and District of Columbia guidelines throughout the pandemic. For our safety protocols, including travel guidelines, social distancing, and the wearing of masks, we have relied on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the DC Department of Health.
Recently the White House has gotten more actively involved in requiring people to be vaccinated. On September 9 President Biden issued Executive Order 14043, directing all federal employees to get vaccinated. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is developing a rule that will apply to employers of more than 100 employees. It will require all employees in such organizations to be vaccinated or produce weekly negative test results.
On September 9 President Biden also issued Executive Order 14042. It was followed by guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force. This order and guidance require institutions that contract with the federal government to implement workplace safety protocols for federal contractors. As a federal contractor (we received some $22.8M for contracted activities this fiscal year), the University is subject to this executive order. The contracts we are party to fund research, provide jobs, and support educational opportunities for our students. Non-compliance would result in a loss of these contracts.
The gist of the order is that those who work on or support federal contracts, even indirectly, must be vaccinated or have a valid exemption. My own thought is that the order is far broader than it needs to be to ensure the performance of our contractual obligations. But it is clear that under the order all full-time and part-time employees of the University must be fully vaccinated by December 8, unless they have a religious or medical exemption approved by the University. There is no way to opt out of the mandate, or to offer a negative test or an antibody test as an alternative. The requirement will not include students, except those student employees whose work is funded directly by a qualifying government contract. (This is a small number, and it does not include students paid by Federal Work-Study.)
The good news is that 95% of our faculty and staff are already vaccinated. The effect of the Executive Order will be to require the 5% of our employees who are not vaccinated either to get the vaccine, or to apply for a religious or medical exemption.
In order to comply with the new Executive Order, we must begin by verifying the vaccination status of all full and part-time employees of the University and those students whose work is funded directly by a qualifying government contract. This requirement is in addition to the earlier self-reports we collected, as we are now required to view proof of vaccinations. We will provide opportunities to verify vaccination status either in person or online. For those who verify online, we will delete any uploaded images once the Office of Human Resources verifies your vaccination record. In the next few days Human Resources will provide additional information about how to comply with this new vaccine requirement, and how to request a medical or religious exemption.
I ask everyone to take this mandate seriously. An employee vaccine mandate is not a step we would have chosen ourselves, but it is the law and we must follow it. For those who are directly affected, we hope to work with each of you to get vaccinated, or to find an exemption, as soon as possible.